A little over eleven years ago an inexperienced Michael Bisping took on Elvis Sinosic in front of a baying home crowd in Manchester. It would turn out to be a fight which would serve as the perfect metaphor for his career.
Having retired this week due to ongoing eye issues, Bisping can look back on a stellar MMA career packed with high-profile wins, UFC records, and a stint as middleweight champion.
But it could have all been so very different.
Having dominated Sinosic in round one, in the early knockings of the second stanza Bisping found himself on his back, and soon after in what looked to be a pretty well locked-in Kimura.
As the 15,000 in attendance held a collective breath, he was able to slip out, reverse and win the fight with some heavy ground and pound.
In the face of adversity, Bisping would ultimately triumph. As would be the case with the following years of his career.
The Count has been the subject of one of the laziest labels in sport. A fighter who didn’t necessarily possess the greatest talent, but was always the hardest worker in the room. To say that downplays his capabilities is the biggest of understatements.
He may not have the wrestling of a US fighter, or the slickest jiu-jitsu, but he is a stunning kickboxer who found the recipe required to win fights.
Bisping burst onto the UFC scene, while the organisation was still in something of its nascent years – particularly from a mainstream perspective. The winner of the third season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), his fight against Sinosic was just his second on the main roster. Defeat, especially in front of his home fans, would have been unimaginable.
As it was, the win helped kick-start the growth of the sport and organisation in the UK, with Bisping now very much the flag bearer.
Utterly blown away by all the beautiful messages regarding my retirement. I have so many people I need to thanks but right now, thank you for the kind words. I should retire more often 😂😂😂— michael (@bisping) May 29, 2018
He had gone from the guy who needed subtitles on TUF due to his thick northern English accent, to a face of the company. A warrior in the ring, charismatic and ebullient outside it. He may not have been everyone’s cup of tea with his outspoken antics and brash confidence, but he was the perfect front for an organisation looking to cast the net far and wide in search of a fan-base.
Without Michael Bisping, the UFC does not look like the business it is today.
They have shared a journey which has been bumpy at times, but the highs have far outshone the lows and ultimately they both reached the very top of their respected ladders.
Bisping’s numbers speak for themselves. Nobody has had more fights in the UFC. Nobody has more UFC wins. Only Frankie Edgar has spent more time in the Octagon. And in the history of the UFC, only three men have more knockouts to their name.
For a man often derided in lacking ability, those are pretty impressive figures.
Even when you look at the list of fighters who have defeated Bisping, it features only the elite of the sport. A reverse against Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort, Waderlai Silva or George St. Pierre is nothing to be ashamed of.
The obvious high point is the stunning knockout of Luke Rockhold to win the 185lbs title in 2016, a fight he took on just 17 days’ notice.
It was an ascent to the top of the mountain which had been years in the making, repeatedly the bridesmaid, it seemed Bisping was destined to always fall at the final hurdle.
But he was very much a fighter’s fighter, and to step in on short notice, against a man who had already choked him to defeat two years prior, in the hope of realising the dream sums Bisping up perfectly. Adversity embraced, he came out the other side a champion.
His legacy in the fight game is secure, a future Hall of Famer for sure, he can bow out safe in the knowledge he is truly one of the greats to grace the Octagon, and a trailblazer which has helped put the UFC in the place it is today.
Humble, hard-hitting and with a high fight IQ, Robert Whittaker might just be the complete package.
The 26-year-old Australian claimed the interim middleweight title with victory over Yoel Romero in the surprise main event of UFC 213 and he did so compromised for four-plus rounds.
Indeed, Whittaker battled back from losing the first two sessions – the first of which saw his left knee hyper-extended by a blunt front kick from the Cuban – to surge to a unanimous decision having taken take the final three frames.
It was a deeply impressive performance and one which now sets up a unification clash with champ Michael Bisping. While many feared the fate of the Brit against Romero, on the evidence of Saturday, Whittaker could in fact provide the tougher test.
In the last 15 minutes of the bumped-up main event after Amanda Nunes pulled out of her bantamweight title defence with Valentina Shevchenko hours before doors opened through illness, he dabbled with perfection.
Throughout his eight-fight unbeaten run in the UFC, Romero has been a phenom. The 40-year-old is a genetic freak wrapped in one of the most athletic frames MMA has ever seen, but in Las Vegas his muscular exterior failed to hide his stamina deficiencies.
His Olympic silver-medal wrestling pedigree is the stuff of legend but on one leg, Whittaker shut down the rampaging Romero with exemplary takedown defence while producing punches in bunches to control the volume of strikes.
“It (the injury) bothered me pretty good,” said Whittaker after his eighth straight win.
“I sustained an injury in camp. I thought it would be 100 per cent, but he kicked it and set it back weeks.
“It was unstable. Had he got another good one, I would have dropped. I know that Romero will capitalise on any weakness he sees, so I had to play it off.
“It was pretty bad, but champions are made of this stuff.”
The best are born out of adversity and the mental fortitude Whittaker displayed on Saturday showed not just heart, but crucial maturity.
The experience of back-to-back wins against Jacare Souza and now Romero will provide an invaluable, if not slightly unusual progression to Bisping.
“That was an awesome fight, well done,” the 38-year-old Brit said to Whittaker inside the Octagon post fight. “But the fact you’re standing there with a belt on makes me sick. You should be ashamed of yourself.”
The smack talk was vintage Bisping but although many will point to the mild-mannered Whittaker as the complete antithesis to the champ, there are parallels to be drawn which makes their potential clash feel like a passing of the torch. Indeed, the New Zealand-born Aussie will now ascend into assuming almost ambassadorial status for a market the UFC are determined to dominate.
Bisping likewise has long been the standard-bearer as the promotion cracked Europe and it’s no secret that after nearly two decades of competing at the top, he is entering the final phase of a stellar career.
At 26, Whittaker is undoubtedly the future of the company and there is every chance he will take over as the face of a burgeoning market just like Bisping did.
Another fighter to have led the way in a market outside of North America was also victorious at UFC 213 – albeit in decidedly less impressive fashion.
Alistair Overeem narrowly edged Fabricio Werdum to take their trilogy after the Brazilian won their first meeting in Pride in 2006 before the former won their strikeforce heavyweight rematch in 2011.
The Dutch legend, who started his camp for this clash in Dubai, squeaked past the former UFC heavyweight champ with a majority decision to realign himself for a shot at a title sequel with Stipe Miocic.
“The hard work continues. I fought Stipe for the heavyweight belt. I didn’t get it. I doubled down and went back to work, and I’m not going to stop until I get the heavyweight title,” Overeem said, having earned $800,000 for his night’s work, the highest undisclosed payday on the card.
It’s ‘Showtime’ once more as the former WEC and UFC lightweight champion looked like the fighter of old as he tore apart a dogged Jim Miller on his return to 155lbs.
The 30-year-old had lost four of his previous five fights, including an interim featherweight title clash with Max Holloway. But back at his natural weight class Pettis looked smooth, creative and his timing on point. He took a unanimous decision and it’s one which many will hope gets him back on track.
UFC president Dana White was incensed the bantamweight champion pulled out of her UFC 213 main event bout with Valentina Shevchenko.
The Brazilian cited illness and apologised to fansafter she was force to withdraw from the clash on fight day.
However, White was adamant Nunes was fit to fight after being cleared by doctors stating that the reason for cancelling was “90 percent mental and 10 percent physical”. It looks like the bantamweight title match up will now be rescheduled to take place at UFC 215 in September.
Five years ago last week, Anderson Silva reached his zenith as he successfully defended his UFC middleweight title for the 10th straight time with a second-round stoppage of Chael Sonnen.
In what was one of the most anticipated rematches of all time – Sonnen had come closest to beating the Spider and hyped the rematch – Silva pulled off one of his biggest wins as he rocked Sonnen before finishing the job with Sonnen on his knees.